This is the first post in a series of fundamentals that we teach at Baltimore Dogworks with every dog that we see for training, puppy or adult.
Control your dog or control your dog's environment
When we're in the process of training our dogs, and for as long as is needed for them to prove to us that they are ready for more freedom in any given situation, our rule is supervise or confine. We make this rule very simple by explaining to owners that, at all times until they are 100% happy with their dog's behavior, their dog should be:
- On leash
- In a crate
When you are able to directly supervise AND directly interact with your dog, they should be on a 6ft leash (the implication is that you are holding the other end). If you are truly paying attention to your dog during this time, there should be no opportunity for them to engage in undesirable behavior without you having the ability to intervene using the leash and training collar. When your dog is outside in the yard, we instruct clients that they can switch to a 15 or 20 foot long line. This allows the dog more freedom of movement, but if we do need to stop the dog from doing something, extract something from their mouth, or otherwise get control of them, it's as simple as walking up the long line.
When you are able to directly supervise but not directly interact with your dog, tethering can be a good option. Examples of times when this is a good option would be while you are cooking, eating, folding laundry or doing yard work. Your dog should be tethered to some immovable object and there should be nothing within reach of the dog that they could chew on or grab hold of that you don't specifically want them to. Providing them with a pacification toy like a nylabone is optional. Never leave your dog unattended while tethered. They should always be within eyesight. Tethering also has the added benefit of "leash breaking" a dog, meaning they learn that it is more comfortable not to pull against the tether than to lean into it.
In a crate
If you are unable to directly supervise and interact with your dog, put them in their crate. I like to leave a very large pacification toy (solid nylabone or raw marrow bone), big enough that the dog can only scrape it with their teeth (not close their whole mouth around it) in the crate. I also often feed my dogs in the crate. These things help to occupy their time while kenneled and also assist in helping them form a positive association with the crate. Crating keeps your dog out of trouble. It disables their ability to engage in any undesirable behavior while you are not there to intervene. To this day, if I am not home, my dogs are kenneled/crated. This way I never have to wonder if they grabbed that sock on the floor, or the pen on the table, or the bread off the counter. I don't have to wonder if they are barking at people passing by the house, peeing and pooping on my couch, and so on.
Your only 3 options
The only three options you ever have in training are;
- Remove the stimulus/distraction/opportunity from the dog
- Remove the dog from the stimulus/distraction/opportunity
- Change the dog's response to the stimulus/distraction/opportunity
Following the rules outlined above assures that options 1 and 2 are handled. They don't have the opportunity to do things you don't want. We work on option 3 when we are prepared to train our dog. And as we do that, we stop having to do 1 and 2 so much. It's a process, and the only short cut is doing it correctly from the beginning.